Thursday, December 31, 2009


Although the injury is gone the lesson remains.

Several months ago I had some pain in my knee. During my last run, I had felt little pops in my knee which seemed more appropriate for Rice Krispees. My wife, ignoring my objections that I would be fine, made an appointment for me at a physical therapist. After checking out my knee, his diagnosis was that I had a muscle imbalance that had thrown my knee off. By running, I had worked some muscles in my leg very well by ignoring others. I could fix the problem by doing certain exercises to work those unused muscles. This got me thinking.

There are certain things in life that I enjoy and I throw myself into them. Other things are not to my liking and I try my best to ignore them, often to my detriment. I think there is a tendency we all have to focus on what we like or are good at and to let the other side go. This creates an imbalance, be it psychological, emotional or otherwise. We are multifaceted beings. We are meant to be in balance. We avoid doing so at our own peril.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Of Parking Spots and Belgian Waffles

It’s happened enough times that it has become a pattern. I pull into a parking spot as I arrive at work for the day. After getting out of my car, I notice a spot that is lightly closer. Immediately, I am filled with regret at having lost the better spot. How can it be that a guy who runs 26.2 miles for run, regrets having to walk an extra ten feet?

I will be heading to Israel in just over two weeks. To get an affordable flight, I had to take a ticket with a stopover in Europe. I had a choice of a five hour stay, where I would have to stay in the airport or an 11 hour stop where I could see Brussels. Given a chance to see visit a beautiful city for the first time, why did I find myself waffling? (Yes, I am aware that this is one of the worst puns ever).

I have a desire for comfort and ease in my life, with which I am not comfortable. One does not grow by remaining in a self-created cocoon. It is safe and easy to remain there, but it prevents you from living. It is by facing and embracing challenges, by breaking out from self-contained limitations that one truly lives.

I am starting to work on embracing challenge. Meanwhile does anyone have any idea what to do while I am in Brussels?

Thursday, December 24, 2009


With ESPN being my mind-numbing drug of choice while I run on the treadmill, I have seen several shows dealing with the year-in-review in sports. To me, the most compelling story, by far, has been the comeback of Vince Young. For those of you who are not football fans, Vince Young was a can’t miss star coming out of college who seemed to miss. Not being able to deal with failure on the gridiron for the first time in his life, he fell into a state of despair, was unable to play, and, according to some reports, he became suicidal. This year, after his team’s starting quarterback was benched, Young returned as the starter and has started to actualize his potential.

When Young became depressed and stopped functioning, his teammates gave up on him. They essentially seemed to question his manhood, feeling that he had no “real” reason not to compete. I suppose that in a sport where players are supposed to “suck it up” and play even when they have concussions and other serious injuries, I should not be surprised that they did not cut their depressed teammate any slack. After all, they have made a Faustian deal that allows them to play and make boatloads of money, with the knowledge that they will likely be crippled later on in life.

I wonder whether general society would be any different. Although much progress has been made in people recognizing the real debilitating effect of depression, do people view it as a real disease? No one would tell someone with a broken leg to suck it up and keep running. We don’t expect someone with heart disease to overcome the problem on their own.

While I take great joy in watching Vince Young’s recent success, I look forward to the day when it will be clear just what it took for him to overcome his disease.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Thrill Is Gone

Some people I know think there is a “religion” gene. There thinking goes something like this; you either have it or you don’t. They assume that I, as a rabbi, was born this way. Others who are not into it, just don’t have it in them. If only it was that easy.

For two years, more or less without interruption, I was on a runner’s high. I loved running and everything about it. The first year was the dating period. Everything was new and exciting. Each new distance run, each race completed felt amazing having never been there before. The second year, much of which was spent in California, was the honeymoon. New places to see, as well as my first marathon (second and third as well) were part of this experience.

I recently started my third year of running. Back in the northeast, running in the cold felt like a challenge but one that grew old fast. Soon, I was running, if I could use that term to describe staying in place, almost exclusively on the treadmill. Running has become a chore, something else to complete. Of course, I keep on going.

Therein lies the answer to the religion gene. I don’t always feel like praying. There are more moments than I wish to acknowledge where my religious fervor is lacking. What do I do? I go out there and keep on going. Nothing exciting or romantic about that. Still, I am convinced that, with time as well as perseverance, the excitement will return.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Gift

I am not into gifts on Chanuka. They are not what the holiday is about. I am not into chazzanim (cantors). Their singing often seems to me to be more about performance than prayer. Yet there I was in shul (synagogue) on Shabbos (Saturday) morning,the last day of Chanuka, thinking about gifts as the chazzan led the prayers with beautiful tunes and a gentle voice.

I found myself thinking of a quote from running’s James Dean, Steve Prefontaine. Pre as he was known said that “to give anything less than your best was to waste the gift”. Was he correct? Was giving your best enough, or perhaps do we owe something more to the Giver of our gifts?

The man leading prayers has a soul-full voice. Not a soulful voice, but a voice that is full of soul in the truest sense. That someone with that voice would sing is to be expected. That he chooses to sing in a way designed to inspire others is not. As I stood there, listening at first, then singing along, the weariness that inevitably sets in for me towards the end of Chanuka melted away.

To give of your gifts to others is the best way to use your gift.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Tale Of Two Treadmills

The guy running next to me was clearly not an experienced runner. Everything from the clothes he wore to the fact that he was holding on to the treadmill while running, made his lack of experience clear. I looked at him and for some reason, allowed myself to feel good about being a better runner.

The night before I had watched a friend of mine, one of the best runners I know, on the treadmill. I had blocked out all thoughts of how much better he is than me. Why is it that I only compared myself when it was to my advantage?

There are times when the challenges of life feel overwhelming and I allow myself to get down. One of the great rabbinic thinkers of the Middle Ages points out that we tend to compare our spiritual level to those below us and our physical level to those who have more. This allows us to stagnate spiritually and to always feel like we should have more. He suggests making the opposite choice. Keep an eye on those ahead of us on the spiritual path. Always keep in mind that there is much room to grow. In terms of possessions, it is to our advantage to realize how blessed we are as compared to other people.

As Chanuka comes to an end, it is worth thinking about the message of inherent in lighting one extra candle each night. Keep on growing. Keep on striving. That, not presents, is the real message of Chanuka.